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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Woman scammed in home project

Woman scammed in home project

Police offer tips to prevent being a victim

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - A Lafayette man is facing a felony charge for allegedly scamming an elderly woman out of thousands of dollars for a home improvement project.
31-year-old Michael Phillips, of Lafayette, has been charged with Home Improvement Fraud, a Class C felony. 

According to court documents, 82-year-old Onita Thomas told police she paid Phillips $11,500 for a room addition that has yet to be completed.
The construction permit still sits in the window at Phillip's home at 56 Chestnut Street in Lafayette, dated November 30, 2009. Towards the back of the home, the unfinished construction project is still visible.
According to court documents,  Thomas called Lafayette Police in August 2010 to report her contractor's phone number had been disconnected, and she hadn't seen Michael Phillips or his associate, Billy Best, in two months.
Lafayette Police Detective Mike Humphrey said the elderly may be easy victims for home improvement scams.
"People that are not legitimate are going to pick out certain victims," he said. "People that need the work done right away, people that they think will not do their homework."
Thomas wasn't available to talk with NewsChannel 18, but we did speak with her next-door neighbor. He said Phillips stayed around long enough to complete the foundation of the addition, breaking a sewer pipe in the process. He said Thomas met Phillips through a member of her family.
"A tip for elderly homeowners is if they have another family member that can be involved with the process, be involved in the decision making," Humphrey said
Court documents show Thomas did just that. Her daughter's fiance paid the initial $5,000 payment after the contract was signed. Thomas later paid a second installment of $6,500. Humphrey said Thomas did the right thing by not paying everything up front.
"The biggest thing is try to have as much written documentation as you can, with receipts, paperwork. Have a written contract," Humphrey said.
He also suggests making sure the contractor is insured and has a bond with your city or county.
Humphrey suggested the following tips, from the attorney general's web site:
  • Check references: Visit other projects completed by the contractor.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general's Consumer Protection Bureau for any complaints.
  • Get a contract in writing, that states a payment schedule, estimated start and completion dates.
  • Never pay for the entire project up front.
According to the Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Department, Michael Phillips has yet to be booked into the jail. Court records show, as of Thursday, there is a warrant out for his arrest.

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